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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
The real impact of Phil's shooting
Peggy (Barbara Windsor) and Steve (Steve McFadden) in EastEnders
The scriptwriters kept viewers guessing
Who Shot Phil?, the EastEnders whodunnit, may not be an original way of boosting ratings. But the accompanying hype is something new for British television, according to the BBC's arts correspondent David Sillito.

Anne Robinson has hosted a special EastEnders version of The Weakest Link, Gaby Roslin has been drafted in for a daily behind the scenes series and former Chief Constable John Stalker has analysed the shooting in a programme that treated the storyline as if it were a real event.

EastEnders has broken new ground in using hours of programme output as a marketing campaign

The BBC's David Sillito
Football fans in Spain have even been told that the kick-off of the Uefa Cup match between Liverpool and Barcelona will be delayed to allow for an extended EastEnders.

Several of the actors have recently appeared more on programmes about EastEnders than on the programme itself.

So while it is almost certain that Phil was shot by a lone assailant, there is a very well organised conspiracy when it comes to the marketing of the storyline.

Using soap storylines as the shock troops of a ratings offensive is nothing new.

ITV's opening night had to contend with the death on The Archers on the BBC's Light Programme of Grace Archer.

Dirty Den and Angie broke soap records when 30 million tuned in to an EastEnders' Christmas Day special that coincided with Den's demand for a divorce.

Ian (Adam Woodyatt) and Phil (Steve McFadden) in EastEnders
Viewers will find out who shot Phil on Thursday
And all boundaries of fact and fiction broke down when Tony Blair called for Deirdre from Coronation Street to be released from prison.

But the rapid changes of schedules, commissioning of extra programmes and cross-trailing across other output is unusual.

Where once the corporation was marked by maverick producers who fought to maintain control of their programmes and the reaction speed of a sluggish oil tanker, the organisation is now increasingly driven by the schedulers and audience research.

The decision by the BBC to switch its evening news bulletin from nine to 10 o'clock was startling only because of the speed with which it was achieved. Moving one fixed programme has implications throughout the schedule and forced a rapid reaction from ITV.

Angie (Anita Dobson) and Den (Leslie Grantham) in EastEnders
30 million watched Dirty Den demand a divorce
But there is a limit to how much a channel controller can do. Most programmes take months if not years of development, and there is even a limit to how many extra editions of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? can be transmitted.

Meanwhile, swapping programmes around can end up confusing viewers rather than fine tuning ratings.

So peak-time tactics have been as much about the way the programmes are shown as much as the programmes themselves.

While managers at both ITV and the BBC deny it, viewers have found that programmes often seem to overrun at peak times making it hard to turn over.

End credits now feature interviews and trails for future episodes that some find are more compelling than the actual programmes and ITV has even dropped some commercials at certain key points to try to keep the viewer hooked.

It is good for ratings but not popular with the advertisers.

Now EastEnders has broken new ground in using hours of programme output as a marketing campaign to boost interest in the storyline.

Perhaps we should now prepare for a Kilroy on the Child Support Agency if it was Lisa, a Money Programme special on turmoil in the pub business if it was Dan, and a one off Pets Win Prizes (or long jail sentences) if Robbie Jackson's dog Wellard pulled the trigger.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
EastEnders nailbiter reaches climax
05 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
EastEnders in the frame
04 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Match delayed for EastEnders climax
05 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Dirty Dan your favourite to pull trigger
22 Mar 01 | TV and Radio
The ups and downs of TV ratings
07 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Hunt 'ruled out' of EastEnders shooting
02 Mar 01 | Entertainment
EastEnders brings record ratings
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Nation gripped by Square shooting
01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Soaps gunning for ratings
16 Mar 01 | TV and Radio
Thief steals EastEnders scripts
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